Constellation Audio burst onto the high-end audio scene in 2010 with the highly acclaimed, ultra-expensive Altair linestage and Hercules mono amplifier (reviewed in Issue 215). The company followed up with the equally well-received but lower-priced Performance Series that leveraged trickle-down technology from the top Reference Series. The Altair and Hercules have since been updated (Issue 260) at even loftier prices, so Constellation continues to develop and refine its product lines in both price directions, mostly downward I hasten to add—the $9900 Inspiration Preamp 1.0 being a good example. All of the Constellation models, from top to bottom, reviewed by TAS writers Robert Harley, Jonathan Valin, Alan Taffel, and Neil Gader, respectively, received glowing reviews.
I don’t like to be predictable, but I am following suit here with praise for the newest Constellation models. Simply put, the Revelation Series Pictor preamp, Andromeda phonostage, and Taurus monoblock amps deliver every aspect of music playback so satisfyingly well that they represent a “just right” balance of performance attributes for me. Music comes to life through these Constellation electronics in a way that can be distilled into one word: buoyant. The Revelation stack seems to respond to music’s ebb and flow, its dynamic rise and fall, its grandeur and subtlety in ways that evoke much of the immediacy and ebullience of live music. Mind you, the Revelation components are not the highest-performing electronics I’ve heard in every regard—Constellation’s own next-step-up Performance Series being their most obvious superior. Marques like Soulution, CH Precision, T+A, Lamm, VTL, and ARC, to name just a few, also have wonderful offerings, but Constellation gear has a particular knack for combining very high levels of overall resolution and excellent transient response with tonal density and textural complexity in a musically compelling, uh, constellation.
The Revelation Series occupies the number-three spot in the Constellation firmament behind the Reference and Performance lines and ahead of the Inspiration components. Priced at about $18,000 per piece, the Revelations fill a previous price and performance void. As Irv Gross, VP of Sales, put it, “There was a large gap between the $32,000 [Performance] Virgo III preamp and the $9900 Inspiration Preamp 1.0. Similarly the price differential between the most basic [Performance] Centaur II Stereo amplifier ($40,000) and the Inspiration Stereo 1.0 amplifier ($11,000) was significant.” Accordingly, the engineers at Constellation essentially combined the casework from the lower-cost Inspiration Series with many of the higher-level Performance Series’ circuit niceties (such as external and more elaborate power supplies for the linestage and phonostage preamps and more “Balanced Bridged” modules in the power amplifiers). The complete Revelation Series set, as reviewed here, is not exactly bargain-priced, but its sonic performance is stellar and its price competitive with other electronics in this category. (Please note: Although Constellation’s corporate headquarters are located in Australia, all of its products are made in the U.S.A.)
The Revelation Series set produced a marvelously lithe and highly detailed sound in my system. Constellation’s characteristic high levels of overall resolution coupled with excellent transient response and ample tonal density were very much in evidence, and those strengths were balanced in a thoroughly beguiling way. The usual trade-offs of accurate-but-analytical, silky-but-smeared, musical-but-veiled simply didn’t apply here. It may sound too good to be true, but this Constellation gear just hits the sweet spot when it comes to bringing together the right measure of audiophile performance and musical expressiveness. The trio produced an expansive soundscape, detailed images, a high level of transparency to sources, tonal neutrality, wide dynamics and frequency extension...all with a winning musical swing. Once again, it may seem too good to be true, but I am leveling with you. This Constellation gear has an excellent balance of talents.
Components described as producing a “lithe and highly detailed sound” often carry the implication that they have a tendency to sound a bit lightweight at best and aggressive or even strident at worst—at least on some recordings. The Revelation trio managed to serve all sorts of music well with dynamic finesse and vivid details, without exacting a penalty in raggedness or edginess on any but the most obviously egregious recordings. It is perfectly understandable for skeptics to immediately suspect I am undermining a seemingly established truth: “Either the component in question is accurate and reveals the edginess in poor recordings or it is glossing the problem over in some way.” It must be either/or, right? Well, there is a happy trend in high-performance audio that is, to some extent, cutting through this Gordian knot. Really good gear is able to deliver very high levels of resolution while also allowing greater listening ease. I attribute this phenomenon to lower underlying noise levels and better dynamic control. High-quality audio gear seems to be able to track the jagged, anharmonicities of loud cymbal crashes, for example, or hotly recorded, high-pitched female voices, for another, with less noise riding along with the signal. If the audio gear contributes less electronic detritus to already tricky signals, the upper frequencies are much less harsh as well as more accurate. Even recordings with unnaturally emphasized cymbals or high-pitched female voices still sound more like cymbals and female voices do in real life. The Constellation stack revealed aggressive recordings for what they were, but not painfully so, and they allowed me to hear past many of the production flaws and thus appreciate the musicians’ and engineers’ presumed musical intent more easily. Some borderline-quality recordings were perfectly enjoyable through the Revelation set.
If dynamic response in an audio system is closer to real life, the listener doesn’t have to work as hard to compensate for inconsistencies. We are all familiar with the subtle, unconscious wince we feel when hard transients have an unstable, electronic brittleness rather than the instant-but-supple quality they have in real life. We humans apparently have great sensitivity to the timing of aural phenomena. It may have something to do with helping us locate the source of sounds so we can get ready to flee or pursue something, as the situation demands. The Constellation trio reproduces timing and dynamics well enough to distinguish itself among the “really good gear.” One thrills to quick, clean transients rather than bracing for them. Even though it is more straightforward to attribute dynamic behavior to power amplifiers and speakers, upstream electronics also contribute a great deal to the low-noise, high-resolution, clean-transient response I’m carrying on about.